Mr President, arrest this descent into police state depravity

It gives me no satisfaction to have publicly warned, along with others, that our country needed to be on guard against the sinister growth of security powers and the culture of police brutality. In fact, I raised this with my Communist Party comrades soon after I resigned from government in September 2008.

My conscience was affronted by common police brutality against black people, as I grew up in the 1940s and '50s. I was motivated by the sickening force of the Sharpeville massacre in 1960 to join the ANC-led liberation movement. I did not anticipate that along with so many ordinary South Africans I would witness in a democratic South Africa abominations such as the police killing of Ficksburg activist Andries Tatane, the Marikana massacre of striking mineworkers, the shooting of protesting farm labourers in the Cape wine lands, and the latest bloodcurdling imagery of Mozambican national and taxi driver Mido Macia being dragged to his death behind a police van.

I had become concerned long before the Macia incident of reports of beatings and torture in police cells. There had also been almost 800 reported deaths in police custody in 2010-2011, constant attacks on protest demonstrations, "shoot to kill" exhortations of police ministers, numerous reports involving police corruption, the use of conspiracy theories to deal with opponents of government and the move to strengthen the powers of the government security cluster by dubious means. Add to this the bizarre occasion where six young would-be recruits perished in a Pietermaritzburg recruitment drive recently and one has a picture of a force bordering on chaos.

All of this in a country where the Constitution and Bill of Rights is dedicated to protecting the safety of our people. The one saving grace has been the number of journalists who have projected these stories and, in the grizzly death of the taxi driver, a member of the public who captured the ghastly deed on amateur video.

One imagines that such information would not be available under the newly cast Protection of Information Bill. In 1994 we established a police service not a police force. All that was reversed in 2009 with a repugnant military ranking system. It is government that carries responsibility for this banana-state militarisation.

It behoves our government, ruling party, opposition, the public and entire civil society to ensure that the menacing culture of police brutality – so reminiscent of the apartheid and colonial era – be transformed into an ethos compatible with the compassionate values we fought and sacrificed for.

What our president needs do to arrest this descent into police state depravity is dismiss his minister and commissioner of police in order to send a clear signal that a reformed system of policing is imperative. He should also revert to the earlier reforms of the police service with strong civil oversight and transparency, institute a far reaching civic education programme of the type instituted within the department of defence in the 1990s, ensure the thorough retraining of officers and personnel in terms of responsible conduct and service,  and provide assertive leadership to weed-out corruption and punish rotten apples. 

These are just some much needed measures to turn the tide and create a police service that serves our people and country.

Ronnie Kasrils was intelligence minister from 2004 to 2008.

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